Age of the Earth Makes You Crazy

Young Blue Marble EarthA poll conducted last year by LifeWay revealed that pastors of protestant churches were split on the question of the age of the earth.  What made it surprising to some was the pastors who were being surveyed were the types of people who usually take the Bible literally.  Most rejected evolution, but it was almost an even split over the question of the age of the earth.  In fact, the difference between the two sides was within the margin of error.  They were more united on other questions.  For instance, 82% at least somewhat believed that Adam and Eve were real people, and 72% at least somewhat disagreed with the idea that God used evolution to create everyone, but when it came to the age of the earth, they were split.

This may shock some, but it isn’t just a question between pastors.  A number of scientists and academics in the United States believe in a God-created universe, and as crazy as it sounds, quite a few believe in a young earth, too.  Yes, while many people view young-earth creationists as the equivalent of flat-earthers, this crazy viewpoint is actually debated and defended from the university campus to national news programs to movie documentaries.  In fact, the case for a young earth has spawned a multitude of organizations, websites, think-tanks, research groups, and even museums.  The most infamous museum is here, but there are many others, even some outside the United States.

Which brings about the question, why did half of the protestant pastors surveyed doubt the idea of a young earth?  Isn’t that what the Bible says?  Are they compromising?  Were they forced to admit the truth of science?  What?

Whether it’s good news or bad news probably depends on your perspective, but what you shouldn’t be–is surprised.  “Old-earth creationism,” the idea that God created everything BILLIONS of years ago, has been a common belief in Christianity for a long time.  Williams Jennings Bryan, the man who defended creation at the famous “Scopes Monkey Trial” was an old-earth creationist.  There are Bible scholars, Hebrew scholars, and evidently half of protestant pastors who are in the same boat.  Many believe the “days” of creation were not 24-hour periods, but longer periods of time.  Others will argue there is a gap of time in the early verses of Genesis, which can account for billions of years.  There are other theories as well, but the difference of interpretation among Christians is so profound that in the book “Examine the Evidence,” Ralph Muncaster pleaded with Christians to avoid drawing a line in the sand over the age of the earth. “We should not allow these issues to weaken our presentation of the Bible,” he wrote.  And indeed, atheists and other skeptics should realize not every Christian who believes in the Bible, also believes the earth is 6,000 years old.

I used to be an “old-earth creationist” myself and as a result, I am very familiar with the Biblical arguments for it.  They were my arguments for awhile, too, and although I have since changed my mind and become a believer in a very young earth, I do sympathize with Muncaster’s point of view. In fact, I think he’s right when he argues that many people in our world will simply tune you out if they think you believe something goofy like the earth is young, or Noah built an ark.  This doesn’t mean we young earth creationists should be silent, but we should speak thoughtfully. After all, the vast majority of us have been told the earth is billions of years old for our entire lives and a 6,000 year old earth just sounds weird.  In the media, if someone is labeled as a “young earther,”  they are seen as losing credibility. Most people consider the age of the earth to be unassailable, and anyone who questions it is like someone who questions if 2 + 2 really equals 4.

So let me be reasonable.  The Bible never comes out and says how old the earth is, or on what date it was created.  To arrive at the age of the earth via the Bible, you have to infer it.  One way is by adding up the ages of the people listed in genealogies in the Bible.  Doing so arrives at an age of about 6,000 years. You can find those genealogies in places like Genesis 5, which gives a long list of people with weird names.  It details who was born, how long they lived, the names of some of their children, how long they lived, who their children were, and on and on….It isn’t the most riveting stuff in the world.  It’s almost like reading a phone book in France in fact, but if you’re trying to figure out how old the earth is according to the Bible, those numbers make a difference.  Fortunately, it’s ok if you still can’t pronounce the names.

Key questions remain, however.  Did the genealogies skip any generations? (Maybe) And regardless how long people have been around, the big questions surrounding those “days” in Genesis and the possibility of any gaps of time, still remain. How someone answers these questions, will determine where they land on the age of the earth from a Biblical perspective.  For a pastor, deciding what you believe is not just a question of the science, but a question of how to correctly interpret the Bible as well.

In some ways, this was incredibly freeing for me.  The mere fact a Biblical case could be made for an old-earth, meant I could look at the science without any preconditions at all.  I didn’t feel any pressure to accept an old-earth view just to match up with evolution.  I could listen to the questions about potassium argon dating, or the findings of helium dating, without having to automatically dismiss one view or the other.  The result was I listened to the argument for a young-earth with an open mind, and heaven help me, it made sense.  Scientific sense.

So I changed my mind.  I became one of the crazy young-earthers. And ironically, I did it precisely because I did NOT have to start with a conclusion.  This is not the case for those who are tied down to the idea of evolution, which requires an old age of the earth. It’s not the case for every Christian who is convinced there’s only one possible interpretation of Genesis.  But for many of those who take the Bible literally, and for protestant pastors, they can go either way on the age of the earth.

A Cultural Tipping Point

coexist2Politically, one of the questions after this season’s presidential election is has the nation changed?  Has the electorate changed?  Mitt Romney crudely mentioned that there is a certain percentage of people who weren’t going to vote for him no matter what, and the Presidential re-election team worked very hard to marshal entire segments of the population to vote for him overwhelmingly.  In the end however, people wondered if maybe some of the traditionally Republican ideas and stances have been rejected by society to the point that a “tipping” point has been reached?  That’s what Ann Coulter called it.   Bill O’Reilly offered that this isn’t a traditional America anymore, and Newt Gingrich said “we were clearly wrong on a whole range of fronts.”

It’s an interesting possibility to consider and those who are involved in politics for a living are studying this very carefully.

Whether you agree or disagree with the idea of a political tipping point, perhaps we should consider a “tipping point” in world-views, especially in regards to spiritual beliefs. In fact, such a tipping point may have already come and gone. Specifically, I’m talking about reaching the end of our journey as a culture to that place where the Bible is assumed to be full of errors, fairy tales and myths- not the place where this argued seriously, but the place where this is assumed, regardless of your arguments.

I’m talking about a tipping point where society as a whole assumes that science has conclusively proven the Bible wrong  and arguing evolution or Noah’s flood is assumed to be impossible.  In such a society, people would only go to listen to a debate at a university over the age of the earth for instance, because they enjoy seeing the uneducated, unevolved creationist receive a public flogging.  They don’t go because they want to hear the other side of the argument because they don’t believe there IS another side of the argument.  Oh they would be surprised of course, but the fact that “surprise” exists at all points to the tipping point.

It’s a tipping point where society assumes that no truth of any religion can be believed over some other religion, where the only truly enlightened people who exist would be those who accept cultural notions on same-sex marriage or the non-existence of hell, or etc…, and where the only truly intelligent people would be those who reject any sort of literal Christianity, or especially a literal Bible.

I’m generalizing, of course.  The details are more complex, but it’s nevertheless worth asking ourselves how we might respond to such an environment, just as politicians are trying to figure out how to respond to an electorate that seems to have changed.

That’s the thing about tipping points; you usually don’t notice them until they’ve passed.  You wake up one day and things don’t work like they did.  In sports we use phrases like “he’s lost a step.”  Where did he lose it?  No one knows. Suddenly your favorite athlete isn’t his young dominating self anymore.  And the truth is, in sports you don’t get it back very easily, and eventually, you can’t get it back at all.

The Bible talked about how the faith of people as a whole, tends to lose a step.  Jesus said, speaking of the future: “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved,” -Matthew 24:12-13

Paul warned Timothy the church would lose a step, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” -II Timothy 4:3-4

And in 2 Thessalonians 2, the Bible says the world will lose a step.  “Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs…” -literally the word “rebellion” there means a “falling away” would occur before the “day” of the Lord, which, in Bible terms, is the end of the world as we know it.  Why, or how, could a falling away, or a rebellion from God happen?

Is it because as a culture, somewhere along the way, more and more people stopped arguing over the word of God in the Bible, and stopped listening to the debate about God, and stopped digging in to find the truth for themselves, and simply bought into the assumption, the worldview really, which claims the Bible is a myth, claims that IF God exists he’s whatever we make him, and claims any religion that talks about accountability, or judgment, or sin …is dangerous and wrong?

So I wonder, sitting here in the back seat, are we there yet? Is this what the majority of our culture now believes in a large enough portion to win the public debate -by default?  If so, and in many places it is, then Christians should realize the people in our world and nation often have a different viewpoint, and a different set of assumptions than we do.  We aren’t always starting on the same page.  And rather than putting ourselves in the place of God and roundly condemning them, more and more it is becoming important to show what Christianity is all about, to graciously explain what Jesus is all about, and be able to listen so that we can see what they are all about. It’s always easier to talk to someone when you know where they are coming from.

That said…

in society as a whole I don’t think we can shrink from the challenges either.

In fact, I think it becomes more important to challenge the very foundations of a world-view without God.  Where the Bible is rejected, defend it on the very substance.  Where creation is scoffed at, ask the hard questions and shake those assumptions.  Where God is maligned, defend Him with thoughtfulness.  Where Christians are condemned, humbly admit our sin when it is true, but show Christ always in love, service, and selflessness.

 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. -I Peter 2:11-12

The Christian tradition of the American culture is changing.  We should be smart and bold in how we stand for Jesus.

Age of the Earth, Can the Bible be serious?

The Bible actually never says how old the earth is, but people do infer the age by adding up the genealogy lists which give the ages of various persons in a family line. There are several places in Genesis where it lists who was the father of who, and how long they lived, so adding those up, people arrive at an age of about 6,000 years.

It has been argued that traditionally Jewish genealogies have sometimes left people out and skipped a few generations here and there when making a list.

If that happened with the lists in the Bible, then one would expect the age of the earth to actually be a bit more, but still nowhere near the 4 1/2 billion mark that the scientifically establishment usually says. (I heard a rumor they are fixing to increase it again, this time to 6 billion)

Many Bible believers, and even some (not all) Hebrew scholars have argued that the word we translated “day” in the Genesis story referred to a time period that was longer than 24 hours. (The word can mean a portion of a day, basically a full day, or an indefinite period of time depending on how it’s used.) Here, it’s used in a way that is most easily just translated “day,” as in… a regular ol’ day.

Other’s have argued there’s a gap of time in there BEFORE the seven days of creation even start. Historically, they’ve argued that this is the time the dinosaurs lived, but the Hebrew language in those verses doesn’t really allow any gap between verse 1 and 2 for the dinosaurs to live in. Some argue that the earth was covered by water for eons, in between Genesis 1:2 and 3, but you can’t fit land dinosaurs in there.

So the plain meaning of the Bible, taking a day to be basically a regular day, is that the earth is a little more than 6,000 years old. Since there was evidently no sun until day four, I think you have give a little room for God to say what is meant by “evening and morning” on those days. I think Augustine said those were “God-defined days, not solar-defined days” and I agree. Was it 24 hours, or 19 hours, or 456 hours…?? Continue reading